Thursday, February 28, 2013

Can He? Will He?

One of the perplexing struggles I have had with prayer throughout my faith journey is not whether or not God can, but whether or not God will.  I believe firmly in a God "who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us" (Ephesians 3:30).  This belief in the power of God has always been without question for me.  What I have questioned at times is whether God will?  The paradox is that this doubt about whether God will has the potential to cripple our belief that God can, thus disempowering the way we pray.

We should most certainly pray according to God's providential will, that is His ultimate will for humankind as revealed in Scripture.  This acts as a guide to whether or not our prayers are aligned with God's established character and purpose.  However, I am coming to think that I should not allow my uncertainty about God's personal will for specific situations to diminish my prayers to a powerful God.  In other words, don't let the fact of whether God will stop you from having the faith to pray passionately to a God who can!  

In his book, The Circle Maker, Mark Batterson writes, "With God, it's never an issue of 'Can he?'  It's only a question of 'Will He?' And while you don't always know if He will, you know He can.  And because you know He can, you can pray with holy confidence."  This is a liberating and powerful position to pray from, as my faith is strengthened by what I know (Can He?) and stimulated by what I don't know (Will He?), generating a faith-fueled exchange between the human and divine.

Pray passionately to a God who can and wait expectantly to see if God will.

Featured Blog - Major Gary Grant

Gary Grant: Dangerous Comments For The Salvos??

Vision Beyond Your Resources

"We refuse to let our budget determine our vision.  That left-brained approach is a wrong-brained approach because it is based on our limited resources rather than on God's unlimited provision.  Faith is allowing your God-given vision to determine your budget."  (Mark Batterson, The Circle Maker)

How long does it take for a faith-based, risk-taking movement of God to morph into a financially-controlled and risk-managed organisation?  Just as long as it takes for compliance to systems to become more important than obedience to the Spirit!

Mark Batterson's quote resonates with the heart of this leader who constantly wrestles with the tension between organisational compliance and a Holy Spirit driven vision.  I increasingly find myself financially inhibited by an organisational culture that makes missional decisions based upon "our limited resources rather than on God's unlimited provision."  I am not advocating for irresponsible stewardship but the courage to support a clear vision from God and the faith to trust Him to supply what is needed to turn that vision into reality.

I have personally experienced too many moments in my leadership and ministry where God's promise of provision was not enough to secure organisational approval.  This has been frustrating when I have had to spend a disproportionate amount of time and energy defending God's vision and justifying my faith position.  Nevertheless, it has also been affirming when I have stepped out in faith anyway in obedience to the leading of the Holy Spirit, trusting God at His word, and seeing Him provide what He has promised.

When God gives you a "vision beyond your resources" He is inviting you into His economy which transcends what is into the realm of what could be when we trust Him to resource what He has revealed.  I am tired of a risk and faith averse culture that limits the potential of our mission because of what we don't have instead of trusting God for what we could have.  I am concerned by a culture that is more dependent upon the generosity of our community than the generosity of our Creator!  I am discontent with a culture of leadership that manages away miracles.

Having a "vision beyond your resources" is not a form of prosperity theology, nor is it a licence for financial mismanagement, but an invitation to dream big dreams because you believe in a big God!  In fact, if a vision really is from God, it will always be beyond your means.  Let us embrace a God-sized vision that demands complete dependence upon God's generous provision!

Monday, February 25, 2013

By Grace Alone

I am currently studying the subject "Jesus the Christ" at Tabor College as a part of my degree this semester.  The primary texts for this subject are by theologian Thomas Torrance, who has written a comprehensive work on the Incarnation, a key doctrine of the Christian faith about God taking on flesh and entering into our existence in the person of Jesus.  Torrance delves deep into this doctrine presenting "a full account of the meaning and significance of the life and person of Jesus Christ, arguing that his work of revelation and reconciliation can only be understood in the light of who he is (real God and real man united in one person)."

One of the biblical motifs used to describe Jesus is Him being referred to as the second Adam.  In 1 Corinthians 15:45, we read, "So it is written: 'The first man Adam became a living being', the last Adam [Jesus], a life giving spirit."  In explaining this motif, Torrance makes a very interesting parallel between the disobedience of the first Adam and the continued disobedience of humankind, despite God's reconciling act of grace through the second Adam, Jesus.
"Adam refused to preserve the order of paradise, refused to keep within the limits of creatureliness imposed upon him by the creator, refused to contain himself within the bounds of God's will, and now man, as Adam's child, refuses to fit into the order of restoration; mankind will not admit that they are flesh standing under judgement and can live only by grace.  They will not admit that God is right in his verdict on them, and thus cling only to God's mercy manifest in his very judgement, cling only to God's forgiveness which carries in its heart the judgement of the sin of the forgiven.  Humanity resents utter reliance on God; men and women want at least to cooperate with God in saving their lives - but that is the very way to lose their lives for by the very process sin is not really acknowledged, and its judgement and condemnation in the flesh are not really accepted."  (Torrance, p. 72)
In the context of the continuing struggle with sin for many Christians (Romans 7), I had an "aha" moment while reading this statement by Torrance.  Our acceptance of God's mercy and forgiveness contrasted with our unwillingness to fully embrace God's grace due to our self-reliance was particularly challenging for me.  I have long held to Augustine's understanding of operative and cooperative grace - operative grace referring to what God has commenced in us through His saving action and cooperative grace referring to what God completes in us through our cooperation with His saving action.  However, the idea of cooperative grace too easily plays into a form of works righteousness that is partially dependent upon what we do.  Paul addresses this issue in Romans 7 where he highlights our inability to deal with sin through observance of the law (cooperative grace):  "For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out" (Rom 7:18).  It seems the harder I try to cooperate with God's grace I am actually nullifying His grace by relying on myself to do what God has already done!

Romans 8, however, demonstrates the weakness of self-reliant grace and the fullness and power of Spirit-driven grace:  "For what the law was powerless to do in that it was weakened by the sinful nature, God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful man to be a sin offering.  And so he condemned sin in sinful man, in order that the righteous requirements of the law might be fully met in us, who do not live according to the sinful nature but according to the Spirit" (Rom 8:3-4).  God's salvation does not require my cooperation but my submission.  Grace that is dependent upon my cooperation is incomplete and denies the power of sin, but full submission to the operative grace of Jesus Christ is complete, totally destroying the power of sin "because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death" (Rom 8:2).

This is an enormous paradigm shift for me which totally changes the way I read another key passage in Romans that I previously understood in terms of operative and cooperative grace.  Romans 12:1-2 says, " view of God's mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God - this is your spiritual act of worship.  Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind."  God's mercy is all about His grace, whereas, offering myself as a living sacrifice is all about my submission, not cooperation.  My transformation is complete not by what I do in response to what God has done, but by fully submitting myself to what Christ has done and allowing His Spirit to complete His work in me.

Is it any wonder that we continue to struggle with sin when "humanity resents utter reliance on God" (Torrance)?!

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Testimony Of Faith

Tonight, I was granted the privilege of witnessing the testimony of faith of a very close friend who has recently committed his life to Christ.  Our lives intersected 16 years ago during my first appointment as a Salvation Army Officer.  We became good friends and developed a mutual respect for each other despite the differences between our faith perspectives and worldviews.  Through the years of our friendship I have unapologetically lived out my faith but have given Holy Spirit space to speak into the life of my friend through the integrity of our friendship.  This has been a shared journey of faith with other mutual friends who have also bore witness to the love of Christ and have equally invested into this friendship.  God's faithfulness, authentic relationships and consistent witness have played a significant role in this life submitting to Jesus Christ!

Words cannot adequately express the joy I felt tonight hearing this testimony of faith together with another couple who have shared a part of this journey!  My friend's new commitment to Jesus has reinforced what I consider to be fundamental elements in any faith journey:

Universality of the Spirit - Holy Spirit is already at work in the hearts and minds of unbelievers, leading them towards a revelation of Jesus Christ.

Authentic Relationships - Relationships must be real and not conditional upon a commitment of faith, nor should people be treated as an evangelical project.

Consistent Witness - It is true that actions speak louder than words.  There must be an alignment between the way we live and what we profess.

Persistent Prayer - Don't give up praying for those whom God has placed on your heart. God is faithful and it is His will that none be lost (John 6:39).

Shared Journey - Never underestimate the role you play in a person's faith journey!  You may not be the one to lead them across the line of salvation, but your influence may advance their journey toward that commitment.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Loving You

Today, Vanessa and I celebrate 20 years of marriage and took the opportunity to return to the place where we had our honeymoon - Phillip Island, Victoria.  Our life together has been an extroadinary adventure of faith, love and joy!  Through the highs and lows we have grown together, embracing every challenge as an opportunity to strengthen our relationship as a couple and a family.

Before we began our life together, in a moment of rare romantic inspiration, I wrote a song for our wedding day to represent the love we shared.  Over the past twenty years this song has grown as I've written and added verses at significant milestones in our marriage.  Today was one of those milestones which inspired a further verse expressing the way I feel about Vanessa and the significance of the marriage covenant we share.  Here is the song as it stands on this 20th anniversary.  By God's grace, may there be many more years to inspire many more verses of "Loving You"...

When I hold your hand
And look into your eyes,
I can’t help to reminisce
The days gone by.
For I see the Master’s plan
Has brought us hand in hand,
And I know His Spirit’s
Touched us with His love. 

Loving you, holding you,
Has filled an empty place
Within my life.
Praise you Lord, Thank you Lord,
For giving me the one
I truly love. 

Friends we were and are
And will for ever be.
We would laugh and cry and share
Each others dreams.
Lord, you took two separate lives,
With love you harmonised.
Now we’re joined together
By your precious love.

Loving you, holding you,
Has filled an empty place
Within my life.
Praise you Lord, Thank you Lord,
For giving me the one
I truly love.

20th February 1993

As we celebrate
Our Anniversary,
I am thankful for your love
And company.
For I know within my heart
Our lives will never part,
While Jesus is the
Centre of our love.

Loving you, holding you,
Has filled an empty place
Within my life.
Praise you Lord, Thank you Lord,
For giving me the one
I truly love.

20th February 1994

You and I have shared
Our love these past five years,
Though we’ve faced some storms and shed
Some painful tears.
We have given God His place
And drawn upon His grace,
So we’ll stay committed
For eternity.

Loving you, holding you,
Has filled an empty place
Within my life.
Praise you Lord, Thank you Lord,
For giving me the one
I truly love.

20th February 1998

We have come into
A new reality
As you’ve given birth to our
New family.
First, a precious little girl
Was born into this world,
Closely followed by a
Handsome baby boy.

Loving them, holding them,
Has given me a joy
I can’t explain,
Praise you Lord, Thank you Lord,
For this family of mine
That I’ve now gained.

7th April 2000

Fifteen years ago
I gave to you my life,
On our wedding day when you
Became my wife.
I declared to you my love
Before the Lord above,
Which we celebrate on
This, our special day.

Loving you, holding you,
Has filled an empty place
Within my life.
Praise you Lord, Thank you Lord,
For giving me the one
I truly love.

20th February 2008

For two decades now
We’ve lived each others dreams,
Which have filled our lives with joy
And memories.
There is nothing I would trade
For the life that we have made,
And the path the Lord has
Granted you and me.

Loving you, holding you,
Has filled an empty place
Within my life.
Praise you Lord, Thank you Lord,
For giving me the one
I truly love.

20th February 2013

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Saved to...?

I was interested to see the revived discussion on Major Stephen Court's Facebook page about the original intent of The Salvation Army S's worn on their uniforms.  Do they mean "Saved to Serve" or "Saved to Save"?  

As a Junior Soldier growing up in a working class Salvation Army Corps in the Melbourne Central Division I remember being taught that the S's represented "Saved to Serve."  This fitted the image I had of The Salvation Army in my small corner of the world and the emphasis of the busy program of our Corps.  In fact, as an older teenager who had a passion to share my faith in a lost and broken world, I remember coming to odds with some of our leaders at a Corps Council meeting who angrily declared, "Robert, we don't have time for evangelism!"  Less than content with this dismissal of a burning passion in my soul, a small group of us formed a team called "The Blitz Brigade" and hit the streets around our church to tell people about Jesus!  The irony of our bold attempts to evangelise our community is that the primary response we got at the door was, "Hang on, I'll go get you some money."  The public were more than willing to contribute to our mission of service, but showed little interest in our message of salvation.  It seems that the "Saved to Serve" ethos I grew up with was not only embedded into the culture of our Corps, but was strong in the psyche of our community.

Years later as a Salvation Army Officer, I attended a Brengle Holiness Convention in 2009 where I heard a message from Major Stephen Court who presented an alternative historical and biblical understanding of The Salvation Army S's as not representing "Saved to Serve," as I had grown up to believe, but "Saved to Save."  He quoted then, General William Booth writing in "The Salvationist" publication in 1879 as saying:

“We are a salvation people – this is our specialty – getting saved and keeping saved, and then getting somebody else saved, and then getting saved ourselves more and more until full salvation on earth makes the heaven within.”

More recently, Stephen offered further evidence of a "Saved to Save" mission from Major Allen Satterlee who shared a story from the "Officer" publication in 1922:

"The motto refers to the well known story of our Founder's visit to Buckingham Palace, London, when he was asked to write in the Autograph Album of one of the Princesses. The simple inscription, 'Saved to Save, William Booth,' produced such an impression that the next day Queen Alexandra sent her Album with a request that the same entry might be made in it."

In my estimation the shift from a "Saved to Save" mission to a "Saved to Serve" mission is indicative of a significant shift of emphasis from the spiritual mission to the social mission of The Salvation Army.  While one is not complete without the other, it does seem that a "Saved to Serve" mission dominates our public image at the expense of a "Saved to Save" mission.  Maybe this is why the statistics in the Australia Southern Territory show a decline in church membership and the number of people getting saved, while our social programs have increased in size and complexity.  At this point, I should make clear that I believe strongly in William Booth's assertion that our social and spiritual mission are "joined together like Siamese twins, to divide them is to slay them" and the biblical understanding of real religion; "Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world" (James 1:27).  However, when our service precedes or precludes our salvation, the core of who we are as The "Salvation" Army is seriously compromised.

If we are a "Saved to Serve" Army, it suggests that the primary goal of our salvation is to serve others.  What then is the end purpose of our service?  What eternal difference does our service make in the context of the Great Commission?  What distinguishes The Salvation Army from any other philanthropic or religious organisation who share a platform of service?  

If we are a "Saved to Save" Army, then it suggests that the primary goal of our salvation is the salvation of others and service becomes the means, not the end in itself.  This presents a holistic view of service that is concerned about the salvation of the whole person.  Our service becomes an incarnational message of salvation.  In other words, service is salvation with skin on! 

For me, "Saved to Serve" is an incomplete mission that ultimately does a disservice to the people we serve, robbing them from the power of a complete gospel that presents a holistic salvation message.  I fully embrace a "Saved to Save" mission as it gives my service power and purpose as I "live to win souls and make their salvation the first purpose of my life."